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Indonesian flood claims 77 lives

INDONESIAN soldiers and police dug through piles of mud and debris yesterday to search for survivors after a dam burst outside the capital, demolishing hundreds of houses, uprooting trees and killing at least 77 people. More than 100 others were missing and feared dead.

Days of torrential downpours filled a large lake bordering Jakarta's low-lying residential area of Cirendeu. A huge section of the Dutch colonial-era dike tore away before dawn on Friday, sending more than 2 million cubic meters of water gushing through the gap.

Some residents said it felt like they'd been hit by a tsunami. They accused authorities of ignoring warning signs and failing to repair damage to the dam, claiming it had been weakened in several places over the years because of flooding caused by blocked spillways.

Hundreds gathered at nearby Muhammadiyah University, pressed into service as a makeshift morgue, with bodies lined up in a row under batik sheets, and an emergency center, with medical workers treating cuts and bruises.

Four field hospitals, set up to accommodate the more seriously wounded, were quickly overflowing.

The death toll kept climbing as hundreds of soldiers, police and volunteers dug in with excavators, hoes or their bare hands, at times forced to stop by heavy rain. National Disaster Coordinating Agency spokesman Priyadi Kardono said at least 77 people were confirmed dead.

"We've evacuated almost all of the survivors from their houses," he said. "We fear most of the 102 reported missing have been killed."

Family members were desperate, unwilling to believe the worst. "Where is she? Where is she?" cried Mulyani, 50, who was searching for her missing daughter, Pungky Andela.

The 21-year-old student went to a Quran recital at a house at the foot of the dam the night of the disaster and decided to sleep there because of the violent weather.

"How can she be missing?" said Mulyani, who like many Indonesians goes by only one name.

Most of the water receded by yesterday, leaving behind streets covered in mud and debris. Cars that had been parked in driveways were swept hundreds of meters away, landing in parks. Sidewalks were strewn with sandals, cooking pans and old photographs.

Some residents described a deep rumbling around midnight, when water began pouring over the rim of the 15-meter dam. They banged on utility poles and cooking pots to warn neighbors.

The dam, built in 1933, gave way hours later.

"We need to find a way to take better care of these Dutch-era dams," said Wahyu Hartono, a former Ministry of Public Works official, blaming budget shortfalls for the disaster.


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